Reading: Designing for the Digital Age

I was clapping my hands as I read the first few paragraphs of Kim Goodwin’s chapter of Designing in the Digital Age and was thinking ‘more people need to read this!’ Especially my friends who don’t belong in the field of design – their mentality of ‘design’  is usually cheapened!

Like most readings that start with definitions of a word, the writer did the same and I was intrigued at how the writer defined some terms. As the writer puts it eloquently, she mentions how design is actually a craft because it’s neither science nor art. In my own definition, a craft is a skill that takes time to master. And we as designers, are crafters – where our goal is to actually solve problems.

Aka designers are actually problem-solvers. 

This comes in well with the next point the author talks about, where a design should serve human needs and goals. Exactly! To solve the problem of our dedicated audience. It all goes back too the human – the users!

In my resumes or cover letters, I will usually add a point about passionate to create ‘human-centric design’. The word will not just be design but human-centric design. As the job you’re applying states ‘user experience’ or ‘human-computer interaction’, the ‘human’ or the ‘user’ is exactly the one we are reaching out/catering to.

Goal-directed design

Moving on to methods, the writer talks about goal-directed design. Here, personas are mentioned. Although I am unfamiliar with the term goal-directed design, I do hear about the use of personas as part of a design process. Personas help designers to imagine the different types of users of a product or service which encourages them to think even wider on how it could be received.

This method indeed works well and been proven that it works well and achieves qualitative results. Hence in design, yes there is no right or wrong but we follow a set of best practices. 

Note: The writer then moves on to talk about best practices. I guess we were on the same page!

Double note: The origin of personas mentioned by the author developed at Cooper, was where she worked at. The Alan Cooper she mentioned, was actually none other than her boss. LOL


More Personas

I realised the writer mentioned about personas once again in the following part. Well, if something is mentioned repeatedly, it sure is something of importance. Very oddly, being in interactive media and in a design school, I have not implemented this method of personas in my work here. Perhaps it’s the type of work that we produce or modules taken. I’ve only ever started using personas during my UX internship.

Initially, I was quite confused about this whole idea of ‘persona thing’. It was the very first time I was putting it into practice. I was called into a meeting with the digital products team to review a product in its high-fidelity mock up state. Print outs of personas were stuck all over the wall and sticky notes and markers became our weapon.

“Val, don’t hold back. Be as critical as possible. Doesn’t matter if you hurt (co-worker’s name)’s feeling” said my boss in a serious tone but with a smile.

As a first-timer I was quite afraid to be blatant about my thoughts. Also, when I first read the scenarios and persona profiles, it actually came off as hilarious as these user archetypes felt very stereotypical. But in actual fact, I found by being really critical of how each group uses your product or service, the things taken into consideration might improve your overall product or service.

Closing thoughts: Design does not stand alone

All in all, I certainly think that design cannot exist just on its own. There are a lot f interrelated factors to make it a successful product. Design should be placed in the central part of the conceiving and development of a product. and from there, we can take different directions. If it’s not ideal, we can always go back to the centrepoint of the design.


Perhaps some questions would be, what about feedback? Which part is it of the design process? How much feedback to take in? How much is enough? Giving the author a benefit of doubt, these questions could have been addressed in another chapter. But essentially, I feel that taking in feedback and asking questions is an important part of the design process.

From experience, I received emails from the innovation lab team where they would send email invites for anyone on-site to come over for a brown bag session and gather feedback. Again, with markers and sticky notes.

Another food for thought would be, how do we actually forge healthy relationships with the other counterparts? Like the engineers or developers. They are important in the development of a tangible product. But, where could we start from building relationships with them?

A reflection on Thoughtful Interaction Design

Taken on one of my trips to school on the circle line. Everyone in the cabin is seen consumed in their digital artifacts. Even those beside me as seen in the reflection.

This reading came in really timely as the points mentioned in these chapters are things that I have been reflecting about daily, as I work on building app interfaces. On the daily commute, (which I take around 1.5 hours to reach that gives me a lot of time to time and reflect) I notice an artificial world – an artificial world of people being consumed by digital artifacts. Of any moment, someone is looking into a digital device. This device would commonly be their mobile phone or your laptop like what you are doing right now.


There were many points worth highlighting in this text. But I will narrow down to one or two.

1. Good Design

Jonas touched upon the term ‘good design’. Indeed it is a very vague term. From a UX perspective, I’ve all along defined good interaction design = user intuitive. However, this sentence challenged my definition of it:

“An extremely fast and efficient digital artifact is hardly good design if it is not understood by users”

Going deeper into thoughts, I realised what we’re tackling here is user empathy. The fact of the ‘human’ in human-computer interaction, it still goes back to the user. For thoughtful design, a designer must put themselves into their user’s shoes. Exactly, it’s about being reflective. 

Example of thoughtful interaction design

Instead of cracking my head or googling for examples, I’ve realised that very apt examples are apps. They are something that we interact with everyday, in fact the first thing we interact with everyday when we wake up.

Image result for whatsapp iphone

Without saying much, everyone would recognize this popular chat platform.

WhatsApp might not be the prettiest app but majority are using this app platform. We see even the older generation commonly using whatsapp instead of other chat platforms because

  1. It fulfils the needs of its audiences – to communicate.
  2. It’s fast – just tap on name of person we want to have a convo with, type message into box, send
  3. There is order and meaning (design theory)– chats on top, I type something and send, it appears in that field of convo exchange

The designers behind the app had to think about the (very) different age groups using the app.

From the words of a WhatsApp designer himself

“When building a product, having a clear problem to solve for people is half the battle. Having a framework on how to judge the proposed solutions helps make the rest of the process more efficient.”  – Charlie Deets, Product Designer at WhatsApp.

Hence, he also highlights the importance of being reflective: taking a step back to understand the user’s problems before diving into a solution.

However, how many actually know that there is a whatsapp story feature within the app? Also, how many people actually use it? Do we really need it? How much thought was put into this feature’s usability?

No design is perfect said Jonas. Therefore, the need for the story feature could be thought about again by the designers.

2. Design theory

The author mentioned “As a designer, you might also need help in creating order and meaning in a complex world. This can be done by making the complex less complex by organizing, structuring and categorizing.”

So true, Jonas. This is what we call information architecture and it is really important in thoughtful interaction design.

Here’s a really bad example

Self-check out kiosks

Image result for self-check out ntuc

Image result for self-checkout screen singapore

Oh my goodness. These self-check out kiosks. Why so many terminals to scan? Why are there so many buttons?

Once I used it and the security alarm almost went off on me. I wasn’t supposed to lift anything off the holding bask area before I check out on my payment. However there was no indication of that. Since then I hardly used these self-help stations anymore but help myself to hurry away. If this happened to me, what more my folks? What more the senior generation? Will they even attempt to use it? 

…and more questions:

How can we make this interface more friendly? Is it possible to further categorize and better structure the information for a more seamless process?

Another thing I would like to add on about achieving interaction design is to always ask questions. Alot of questions. Again, it’s about reflecting, it’s about taking the step back to think and put empathy in it.

Hence in my opinion, good design comes about if the designer takes many steps back to think, plan and put themselves into the shoes of the user.  Many atimes we jump straight in to photoshop or the tools that we use to start designing. But here, we learnt that the steps of planning and developing is paramount. We usually overlook the paper and pen stage but this is where the problem solving happens behind a thoughtful design. Only then a designer can achieve human-centric design.

As Google’s Design team’s mantra goes “focus on the user and all else will follow”.



Reflections: The Oceanic Exhibition (+ slides)

About me

Being a city-girl that grew up all her life bustling Singapore, questions about the ocean or anything pertaining to it were hardly ever questioned (or popped up in my thoughts at least.) These questions appear during dinner topics, but I never really thought deeper about them.

About The Exhibit

It was only during this exhibition that issues on conservation and the ocean started to trigger some thoughts. It started mainly by this question I heard from one of the interviews


“We(humans) are land-species so we typically care more about our land.. but what about the oceans? “

As I heard these words playing straight into my ears, I quickly pulled out my phone and googled ‘PERCENTAGE OF OCEAN ON EARTH”


A figure we probably saw back in elementary school science lesson but forgotten as life went by.  But that figure. That was actually a high percentage. The fact dawned upon me so hard. That was when I recalled all the conversations about conservation and understanding that it is an important issue we should be looking at.

About the work that gave me interest


Upon walking into the exhibition, I found myself moving towards the video screen installation OCEANS. Dialogues between ocean floor and water column by Armin Linke. I was drawn by the immersive environment of the space itself. I gazed at the installation from the back as video clips of the sea spilled across four screens. The scale and height of the screen invites an immersive gaze as if you were enveloped into the environment of the ocean itself. Hence, it heightens the experience of the audience as it led me to think about the ‘Anthropocene’. Not sure about the artist’s intention behind the work but it wasn’t too clearly shown unless further researched. Perhaps, his long-term film project would be able to capture and showcase the interconnections of human’s activities and its effects on the climate and environment.

Another thing worth mentioning about Linke’s work was that the footage were edits of video archives of several scientific expeditions. It captivated me with the up-close marine life as it clearly captures form and movement of the underwater species with a depth of more than 5,000 metres . I would say the way the installation was curated really worked to its advantage as I found myself immersed in it on the seats for at least 10-15mins.

While being immersed, I was reminded of the question ‘Who owns the ocean?’

My first thought was..everyone. Then one.

I actually felt very compelled to think. I needed an answer. Or is this one of those unanswered questions?

Anyway, I googled.

So the Law of the Sea states that no one owned the oceans. I see. I guess indeed no one owns it, but everyone is responsible for it. Thoughts?

About the lecture that gave me interest

Dr Cynthia Chou – Orang Suku Laut (Sea Nomads)

As the speaker shared a mini lecture on the indigenous beliefs of the Orang Suku Laut, I immediately got reminded of art history. I also found it rather eye-opening as it was the personal account of the lady speaking to the crowd. During the lecture, she talked about the spirit that resides in things and people, specifically 1) adopted things 2) inalienable possessions 3) non-adopted things.

I was intrigued by the supernatural powers these objects were said to possess. In our modern culture, we easily hand things to people or even adopt ‘pre-loved’ objects but for these communities that lived near the ocean, they are more watchful/careful of objects as they have the idea of ‘taboo’.

With further research, I found that the speaker, Dr Cynthia herself was offered an inalienble possession. Suri, the lady that passed the stone on to her was her ‘adopted mother’ during her field study. She explained that Cynthia had been very good to her hence she is passing the object to her.

As a normal reaction, the researcher was taken aback by the gesture and questioned how is she able to to accept the stone.

Suri’s brother then explained that if someone in their community offers something, they accept. Hence, Cynthia cannot refuse on the object.

It was said that by rubbing the stone given to her on her eyelids, she is able to have a vision of her adopted mother and be one with her no matter the distance.

Furthermore, Cynthia, an outsider was also able to claim descent from an OSL. Through the passing on of the object, the OSL community was drawing her in symbolically.

These items like the stone received by Cynthia were highly treasured by Orang Suku Lauts and also people out of their community as they were said to hold inherent powers and inalienable value. I found this seriously amusing that they are able to maintain a culture like that since the beginning of their time.

A quirky thought I had was also that since they are really careful with the objects and its ownership, would the idea of having ‘Carousell’ be a taboo given their culture?

   Carousell: Snap-Sell, Chat-Buy- screenshot

   Carousell: Snap-Sell, Chat-Buy- screenshot

Carousell is a popular app in Singapore that sells pre-loved items. You can find all sorts of items under the sun in this virtual flea market. 

Other questions triggered during the exhibit

What is the role of art in engaging with larger issues around the environment, nature and climate change?

This is really apt – I think it plays a significant role as it makes people reflect. Upon viewing that work, it just made me reflect and actually ponder on what is the state of oceans today, how does culture actually play a part in it, especially on the conservation aspect.

Through public exhibitions, it gets word out to people. It basically serves as a bridge of communication between the issue and the masses

Art is actually a powerful tool as it could engage our five senses. Compare an installation that has a component of scale, sound and visuals, just like the four-screened installation. As compared to reading paragraphs from a newspaper article or a book. In other words, the medium is the message. Art pieces have this powerful aspect – if used well and to its advantage.


About my closing thoughts

Overall, this exhibit sparked a lot of thoughts. However, the bigger problem is in sustaining conservation. How has this exhibit suggested ways we could contribute or play our part in the issue?  I also find that the organising team could think more about how the message is being received by its audience. I find some arrangements rather unconventional and subtle, resulting in a lot of question marks and ending up questioning the whole expedition. I am curious to know are exactly are the target audience of this exhibit and if this is the best way to present it for the public to actually have a ‘call to action’.



Link to slides:

Group members: Anam, Siewhua, Val